ESL Pull-out projects vs. Total Immersion - Which Language Learning Method is More Effective?

by Weronika Lass

The specific social and linguistic environment of America means that in some states, the local education institutions will have to provide instruction to children of immigrants for whom English isn't a native language. Due to the wave of such students, the idea of equal educational opportunity for all children has been met with conflicting methods of teaching.

We shouldn't forget that education is a long-term process and involves much more than just the English language – knowing it doesn't help if students aren't sure about how to use the language successfully.

When it comes to teaching foreign children English right at school, there exist two different methods:

Which method brings better results? Read on to find out what are the main advantages and disadvantages of both these language teaching methods.

ESL Pull-out – Advantages

There are several important advantages to the ESL Pull-out technique, which basically means that children for whom English is a second language are pulled out of their grade classes and join target groups focused on English language instruction. Here are the main advantages and disadvantages of the method.

Building community

ESL pull-out classes provide a safe space for speakers to practice their linguistic skills. ESL students were found to often report feeling frustrated in the grade-level classroom due to the fact that they don't understand everything and cannot participate fully in each lesson. In the ESL class teachers modify the spoken language to match the students' levels – providing them with many opportunities to participate.

In turn, students feel comfortable and are more likely to take educational risks, consequently speeding up their language acquisition. They also build a sense of community that derives from being in one group with other ESL speakers who understand them.

Qualified teachers

In ESL education, teachers are usually highly qualified to encourage the students' language acquisition. Those who are new to the United States or simply speak another language at home receive specific challenges that are somewhat familiar to grade-level teachers. ESL teachers complete a special training to receive their license – they boast a deep knowledge necessary for proper instruction.

Targeted instruction

In ESL teaching, teachers have an opportunity get to know their students better and quickly identify key problem areas for individual students. Students receive more constructive feedback and the teacher gains many opportunities for providing examples of target structures, modifying speech to match the level of the students. An attention focused on increasing their language skills is something that significantly helps individual students to learn English quicker.

Instruction in small groups

A key advantage of pullout ELS teaching is that it happens in small groups, where students receive more of the teacher's attention and have more occasions to practice speaking when giving answers. Reluctant students who refrain from active participation will be caught and inserted into the conversation. Most importantly, students won't become distracted since those lessons involve less activity than in a large classroom.

ESL Pull-out – Disadvantages

Students miss class time

As you can imagine, classroom teachers who have to deal with students who regularly pass their class in favor of an ESL lesson might find the whole situation problematic. This is probably the most important disadvantage of the pullout project. Students might miss tests or important demonstrations, and ESL teachers cannot be too flexible either and allow students go every time something important happens in their classroom.

ELS groups are strictly divided

This is another factor that adds to the diminished flexibility of the ESL teacher. Inserting a student with low language skills into a group with high ones just for the sake of meeting schedule goals is pointless – it won't help them in language acquisition.

Time requirements

ESL teachers have to follow a schedule of mandated minuets. In New York the amount depends on the level – beginners and intermediate level students receive 360 minutes a week; advanced students receive 180. This means a lot of class time lost and a lot of trouble meeting those requirements every single week.

Total Immersion – Advantages

Total or full immersion is a completely different method – here are its main advantages and disadvantages when compared to ESL pullout projects.

Improved literacy

Researchers who conducted numerous studies on students of various ages who underwent full immersion instruction agreed on one thing – once exposed to the reality of a different language, children tend to develop initial literacy in the immersion language, only to later develop a complete understanding of the foreign language. This is a smooth passage that is, for instance, unavailable to adult learners who cannot benefit from the opportunities offered by full immersion.

Deeper understanding of native language

The cognitive processes that underlie the ability to read a foreign language – such as understanding the relationship between the spoken language and the written word – are skills that are generally transferred from one language to another. Research shows that in a full immersion program, students not only improve their language skills, but also gain a deeper understanding of their native language.

A global perspective

A full immersion classroom or school will expose children to cultures, which are not among the ones children encounter on a day-to-day basis. In this way, immersion helps to develop an ability to make friends and connections with various classmates. Students who finished full immersion programs will have an ability to think globally – something that is becoming increasingly important these days.

Total Immersion – Disadvantages

Impact on native language fluency

Many parents are concerned about the child’s ability to fluently master two languages at the same time, but research shows that dual languages can in fact be effectively learned. This goes especially for younger kids that are under 12 years of age. In the immersion program, a child is learning two languages, not a native and second language.

Forgetting native culture

The same parents often worry about the impact of too much exposure to new cultures on their child's memory of their roots and cultural identity. This argument is best countered with another one, which suggests that this kind of exposure to different cultures and languages is a factor that helps children to grow and gain a deeper understating of other cultures.

Assimilating speakers of foreign languages into American public education system is crucial for future academic performance of each and every generation – choosing the method isn't easy and will depend on various factors. Ultimately, what counts most is the passion for educating young minds!

This article was contributed by Weronika Lass of


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